Beta-blockers for exams identify students at high risk of psychiatric morbidity

Jawad H. Butt*, Søren Dalsgaard, Christian Torp-Pedersen, Lars Køber, Gunnar H. Gislason, Christina Kruuse, Emil L. Fosbøl

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Objectives: Beta-blockers relieve the autonomic symptoms of exam-related anxiety and may be beneficial in exam-related and performance anxiety, but knowledge on related psychiatric outcomes is unknown. We hypothesized that beta-blocker therapy for exam-related anxiety identifies young students at risk of later psychiatric events. Methods: Using Danish nationwide administrative registries, we studied healthy students aged 14-30 years (1996-2012) with a first-time claimed prescription for a beta-blocker during the exam period (May-June); students who were prescribed a beta-blocker for medical reasons were excluded. We matched these students on age, sex, and time of year to healthy and study active controls with no use of beta-blockers. Risk of incident use of antidepressants, incident use of other psychotropic medications, and suicide attempts was examined by cumulative incidence curves for unadjusted associations and multivariable cause-specific Cox proportional hazard analyses for adjusted hazard ratios (HRs). Results: We identified 12,147 healthy students with exam-related beta-blocker use and 12,147 matched healthy students with no current or prior use of beta-blockers (median age, 19 years; 80.3% women). Among all healthy students, 0.14% had a first-time prescription for a beta-blocker during the exam period with the highest proportion among students aged 19 years (0.39%). Eighty-one percent of the students filled only that single prescription for a beta-blocker during follow-up. During follow-up, 2225 (18.3%) beta-blocker users and 1400 (11.5%) nonbeta-blocker users were prescribed an antidepressant (p < 0.0001); 1225 (10.1%) beta-blocker users and 658 (5.4%) nonbeta-blocker users were prescribed a psychotropic drug (p < 0.0001); and 16 (0.13%) beta-blocker users and 6 (0.05%) nonbeta-blocker users attempted suicide (p = 0.03). Exam-related beta-blocker use was associated with an increased risk of antidepressant use (adjusted HRs, 1.68 [95% confidence intervals (CIs), 1.57-1.79], p < 0.0001), other psychotropic medication use (HR, 1.93 [95% CI, 1.76-2.12] p < 0.0001), and suicide attempts (HR, 2.67 [95% CI, 1.04-6.82] p = 0.04). Conclusion: In healthy students, use of beta-blockers during the exam period was associated with an increased risk of psychiatric outcomes and might identify psychologically vulnerable students who need special attention.

TidsskriftJournal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology
Udgave nummer3
Sider (fra-til)266-273
StatusUdgivet - 2017

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